Debra Gabel – Zebra Patterns

Debra and family.

Debra and family.

Debra Gabel grew up in a small farm community in New York.  She loved to draw and color.  Her mom had a Kenmore Sewing machine and she made doll clothes and little blankets at a young age. At 13 she was babysitting for a neighbor/quilter who started a gift company with raw edge appliqué pillows and totes.  During high school and college, Debra worked as her assistant and traveled the East Coast doing craft shows. The lesson was that a woman could be a business owner and be very successful out of her own home with a product she was passionate about.

After graduating from college with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Graphic Design, Debra got hired as an Art Director of Champion International Paper and met her husband Gary.  She says, “We married, and without really planning, ended up opening and working for several paper bag manufacturing companies in the USA. He would run the Operations/Plant and I would run the art department.  Eventually, we entered into a joint venture and became owners of a plant in the Midwest.  I designed hundreds of shopping bags for well-known retailers and gift bag companies across America.
 
In   1992,   I   was   pregnant  and  started  my  design  company — Mixed Media. I enjoyed working freelance at home.  During that time of being a new mother I returned to sewing by creating curtains and bedding for the nursery. My friends were also having babies, and they received homemade designed quilts. I loved sewing once again.”

Cancer Haircut

Cancer Haircut

So, life was good.  Debra and her husband were living in Maryland, raising three sons and she had a successful graphic design business . . . .

Then, in the summer of 2003 she was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma — at a very advanced stage.

Debra says, “My body was riddled with tumors.  The treatment was six months of very aggressive chemo to stop the growth and shrink the tumors — followed by a stem cell transplant.  At the time of the transplant I was 88 lbs, bald and defeated.  It was long and difficult, day after day of severe nausea 24-7 for six months. The transplant took place on December 26, 2003, followed by 40 days of total isolation. After the transplant you wait. If your body starts the regeneration of white blood cells — you live. Luckily for me it turned out that way.”

During isolation one afternoon Debra was watching Oprah. Oprah looked at the camera and said, ‘This is your life and it is your responsibility to live your best life and do something you are passionate about.’ That was the moment I allowed myself to see beyond the hospital bed and ports in my chest.  That was the moment I asked myself what do I need to do to live my best life? The answer was design things in fabric.  

My name is D E B R A — so I discarded the “D” and replaced it with a ‘Z’ and Voila . . . Zebra Patterns!  I love stripes and their graphic nature!“

Zebra Patterns Studio

Zebra Patterns Studio

A two story building on their property became the studio for Zebra Patterns.  They also have taken over 1500 square feet of their basement for offices.  Gary and Debra are still working as a team, and they have two women who work part time who are excellent.  They hire piece workers from the local high school and guild members to cut and stuff patterns.

Debra says, “When I am sewing, I liken it to a form of prayer or meditation.  I am thinking about the recipient and stitching and cutting each piece with positive energy. I know that energy is passed on to the special person who receives the handmade piece.

Zebra Patterns specializes in partnering with companies and quilting shops all over the world to make an impact on the quilt industry.  One example is the Row by Row program.  It’s a shop-hop- like program that runs during the entire summer targeting traveling quilters. Quilters stop in participating shops and are entitled to a free pattern to make one row in an eight row quilt. Each summer has a different theme. This summer will be ‘water’.  Once they get eight rows and make a finished quilt they can win 25 fat quarters from a quilt shop that has their row included plus gift cards and product. It has become a national phenomenon. The concept was created by Janet Lutz in Syracuse NY. She started five years ago with 20 NY shops and this year we will have all 50 states and ALL of Canada!”

Fabric Plates™

Fabric Plates™

Debra is the Creative Director for Row by Row. She designed the logos, the fabric, and Zebra provides fun FabricPlates™ custom designed for every participating shop.  FabricPlates™ have taken on a life of their own. Quilters are collecting the plates and making borders, labels and entire quilts from the fun vanity phrases that relate to quilting.

Another unique quilting product from Zebra Patterns is their Scrapbooking for Quilters Program.  Debra designed this concept to empower quilters to create their own quilt to tell their own story.  They have nearly 200 different faux stamp printed panels available in 6” x 7” and 18” x 21” sizes.  Based on the scrapbooking concept, the quilter takes the faux stamp images of favorite destinations and arranges them to represent his/her story.  Zebra provides the 100% organic printed panel stamps and you simply applique them. Debra has even created fabric “stickers,” like paper crafting but in cotton, to embellish quilts like scrapbook pages. Everyone knows how to scrapbook and quilters know how to sew. It is a winning formula! Zebra provides the framework to create a totally personal quilt without the anxiety of designing. Their Where Ya Been? Pattern includes a CD with 25 sticker images and ideas for 3-4 easy, personal and fun quilts.

Where Ya Been? Pattern

Where Ya Been? Pattern

The inspiration for the first stamp created, Baltimore,  was in response to a guild challenge. One of Debra’s guild friends said, “You should make a pattern of that!” The rest is history!  She loves to take graphic things like stamps and license plates and translate them into a fun bigger or smaller size and integrate them into quilting.  The scrapbooking concept stirs up memories and creates emotion while making the quilt and using or gifting it.

Debra’s personal mantra is from one of her favorite books – The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. She tries to live by the ancient Toltec wisdom:

  • Be impeccable with your word
  • ALWAYS do your best
  • Don’t ever take anything personally
  • Don’t assume

www.zebrapatterns.com
www.rowbyrowexperience.com

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